|Most collective bargaining agreements provide for grievance procedures, usually culminating in arbitration if the grievance is not settled beforehand. Grievance mediation is a completely voluntary step, prior to arbitration, which provides an opportunity for a third-party neutral, such as an FMCS mediator, to assist the parties in reaching their own resolution of the dispute.
In grievance mediation, the parties are completely responsible for designing their own solution. The mediator does not make a binding decision for the parties, but guides them to their own mutually-acceptable resolution of the grievance. Instead of creating winners and losers, the grievance mediation process develops cooperative problem-solving between labor and management. Grievance mediation is not a substitute for a contractual grievance procedure, but rather a supplement to contractual grievance procedures in a collective bargaining agreement. Grievance mediation can be offered as part of a larger program to help labor and management focus on their joint interests.
When Should FMCS Grievance Mediation be Used?
FMCS cannot involve itself in the mediation of every routine grievance, whether disciplinary or contract interpretation. Rather, the agency’s goal is to use the grievance mediation process as a means to help the parties improve their workplace relationship. FMCS can agree to mediate in the context of a full-service approach, or within the framework of a larger, ongoing program, especially when grievance and arbitration mechanisms have broken down and disputes are not being resolved expeditiously. In these situations, FMCS uses the grievance mediation process as a tool to help parties establish better methods for managing and resolving conflict themselves.
Available FMCS Training
Training has been developed to emphasize the benefit of mutually-acceptable grievance settlements, both for short term rewards and for the relationship-strengthening potential. Training may be based on teaching union and management representatives how to negotiate grievance settlements, and how to enlarge the goals in grievance settlement by linking them to shared problems and common objectives. The ultimate goal for FMCS is that the parties be able to resolve problems themselves at the lowest organizational level and, eventually, without the help of a third-party.
How to Request Grievance Mediation
- Informal Requests
Either a labor organization or management can contact the FMCS Director of Mediation Services or a federal mediator in their area to discuss the type of assistance FMCS can provide. If you choose grievance mediation, a formal request must be filed.
- Formal Requests
The labor organization and management must submit a signed, joint request to FMCS asking for assistance. Formal written requests should provide a very brief description of the issues (by type) and the geographic location of the parties.
Not every request is appropriate for grievance mediation. FMCS reserves the right to decide whether or not it will offer grievance mediation services. Filing with FMCS does not commit the agency to offer any services.
FMCS Guidelines for Grievance Mediation
- The parties must submit a signed, joint request for FMCS assistance. The parties must agree that grievance mediation is not a substitute for contractual grievance procedures.
- The parties must waive any time limits in their labor agreement while the grievance mediation step is being utilized.
- The grievance mediation process is informal and the rules of evidence do not apply. No record, stenographic or tape recordings of the meetings will be made.
- The mediator’s notes are confidential and will be destroyed at the conclusion of the grievance mediation meeting. FMCS is a neutral agency created to mediate disputes and maintains a policy of declining to testify for any party, either in court proceedings or before government regulatory authorities.
- The mediator will use problem-solving skills to assist the parties, including joint and separate caucuses.
- The mediator has no authority to compel a resolution.
- At the parties’ request or on his/her own initiative, the mediator may provide an oral recommendation or opinion to resolve the dispute. The parties may agree to implement such recommendation, but neither is obligated to do so.
- If the parties cannot resolve the grievance, they may proceed to arbitration according to the procedures in their collective bargaining agreement.
- Nothing said by the parties during a grievance mediation, nor any documents prepared for a mediation session, can be used during arbitration proceedings.
- The parties must agree to hold FMCS and FMCS mediators harmless for any claim of damages arising from the mediation process.
- The parties must agree to these procedures and guidelines.